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Is Clutter A Problem? Fly-Lady Obsessive? How About Putting Up The White Flag?

Updated on August 5, 2012

It seems as if every where you turn, someone – a style ‘guru’, a personal success trainer, website obsessive, self-help advocate, Martha Stewart acolyte or nanny-style reality TV lifestyle bully, or the terrifying How Clean Is Your House valkyries – is foaming at the mouth, champing at the bit, pawing at the starting gate … oh sorry, where was I? Oh yes – and just dying to impart to us the secrets of a good de-clutter (in tones rather reminiscent of the holistic types continually recommending a good old gastro-intestinal flush). Whether it's the Flylady, Feng Shui types or proponents of minimalist design, I've had just about enough!

Flylady? Forget It!

But wait, may I suggest that clutter, while perhaps not good as such, isn’t necessarily all bad? There are great things about clutter… What a wonderful diversionary tactic tackling it can be, great for all procrastinators. Why do we always get side-tracked when de-cluttering: is there a good reason? It’s fun to go off down memory lane and investigate stuff you’d forgotten you had. You can find good stuff and get some nice surprises that way! Sometimes we keep things tucked away for good reasons: just because we’d forgotten them doesn’t mean they’re valueless. You can use clutter to 'lose' stuff too: if your display cabinet has a jumble of ornaments rather than a single, carefully chosen object, it's a lot easier to hide the eyesore of a figurine your sweet little auntie gave you (and wants to check on every time she visits.) At minimum, just a touch of clutter is liable to mean you have all the items you use frequently ready to hand.

Make Money From Clutter

And we’ve all had the experience of an over-enthusiastic de-cluttering session – and the regrets, and occasional panic, which follow, e.g. when you realise that the old address book that went on the fire two hours ago was the only repository of the contact details for the childhood friend you fell out with so long ago, but always meant to call eventually…

There are things you might one day regret filing in the bin, or maybe have already had reason to wish back in your possession – the boxed, pristine kids’ collection of Matchbox cars – hello Ebay! – the embarrassing school photos of a now-famous, once-detested school rival, etc etc. You could call it clutter – or you could call it 'fascinating objets d'art'!

After all, is a little clutter so very bad? If you live in a home so immaculately presented that it looks like an Ideal Home Interior – if a museum curator could set up a show in your living room with no advance notice – then maybe you're taking orderliness and appearances a little too far. Too much housework rots the brain, you know! I'm not saying the obsessively tidy are repressed or anything... On the other hand, if it's your partner who has very high standards of order and tidiness, then let them do a bit of the tidying (or all of it).

I think it's really necessary to discriminate between good clutter and bad clutter (and completely crazy clutter). Good clutter equals the reading glasses you need fifteen times a day, ready to hand on your desk or coffee table, not tucked away in a drawer. Good clutter equals the tub of almond cookies your angelic housemate made, out on the kitchen surface because you never know when you might need a fix. (Okay, you'll need a fix in about five minutes. If you know this, then why are you putting them away?) Bad clutter equals two weeks worth of newspapers and magazines, still unsorted and not disposed of into the appropriate recycling receptacles. No one's saying that kind of clutter is a good thing!

So, where do you and your house come on the clutter scale? Is it so very bad? Clutter: maybe you can learn to love it!


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